Blackhawk Network Study: Ditch the Holiday Party and the Turkey – Employees Want Gift Cards and Bonuses

New research examines what employees most prefer (and expect) from their employers to close out 2019

Pleasanton, Calif. – November 4, 2019 – Ahead of a busy holiday and bonus season, many employers are searching for the right gift to reward employees that strikes the right balance of being both thoughtful and useful. New research1 found that of the top three most preferred and expected gifts this year, gift cards fall only slightly behind cash and check bonuses on the list, while prepaid reward cards fall in the highly preferred category—giving employers a great opportunity to surprise their team members with a gift they actually want this year.

Overall, for Gen Z and Younger Millennials (80%) and Younger Gen Xers (83%) surveyed, receiving holiday gift cards makes them feel more valued by their company. More than 60% of respondents cited the holiday gift as a factor that motivates them to stay with the organization, a big impact for companies looking to stay competitive in a changing employee landscape.

In fact, 80% of employees surveyed view gift cards from their employer as an opportunity to “treat themselves” during a busy holiday season. Sixty-eight percent see it as an opportunity to buy something a bit more expensive for themselves than they would normally purchase.

“These ‘treat yourself’ moments offer a big opportunity for employers to capture their employees’ attention,” said Theresa McEndree, vice president of marketing at Blackhawk Network. “Based on our research, we know that the holidays are the top occasion for employee incentives. Gifts make employees feel valued and that their organization cares about them. This is especially true for Gen Z and younger millennials.”

According to a recent study2, 91% of incentive managers surveyed reported satisfaction with their card reward programs, and it seems that employees agree. A 2017 study from the Incentive Research Foundation found that gift and prepaid cards as a reward tool outperform cash and bonuses.3 Researchers uncovered that employees view gift card rewards differently: all things being equal, employees in the study viewed gift and prepaid cards as a reward, where cash and bonuses started to become expected.

Other top findings from the holiday reward research include:

  • Cash is king, but gift cards reign supreme. Along with cash and check bonuses, gift cards are the preferred holiday gift, with more than 50% of respondents citing gift cards as their preferred gift this year because of their ease of use, convenience and the ability to buy items of their own choosing. Furthermore, 25% of respondents say that they use gift cards as a “regift” to others on their holiday list—a gift that saves your employees time and shopping. For some employees, the versatility of gift cards make them an ideal option for their own gifting choices.


  • Holiday parties no longer rule. The traditional holiday party may be running its course for a younger generation of workers. According to the study, 40% of respondents said that they expect their company to offer a holiday party as a reward for employees this year, however, only 2% list that as a preferred holiday gift from their company.


  • Bigger is better. While 73% of respondents are generally satisfied with any kind of holiday gift they receive from their employer, the overall value of a gift—including gift cards—impact the way employees feel towards their organization. Employees are most satisfied with their holiday gifts when they have high enough monetary value to be useful and when they are practical and relevant to the recipient. Sixty-two percent of respondents agree that high monetary value is the top driving of satisfaction with a holiday gift, but employers be warned—85% of employees believe that low monetary value on a gift card leads to high dissatisfaction.


Bottom line for employers? Don’t fall into the category of “worst gift” by giving things that are impractical or perceived as unthoughtful, like company merchandise, extra vacation days or food gifts that people won’t (or can’t) eat around the holidays—just a few of the complaints mentioned by those surveyed.

Blackhawk offers comprehensive rewards options via Hawk Incentives, including a la carte and personalized reward card ordering through At, businesses can order OmniCard Max reward cards that feature more than 160 unrelated retail brands all on the same card. Max cards can be issued the same day they are ordered, personalized with recipients’ names, branded with a company’s logo and offer the perfect blend of thoughtfulness, choice and control for employers in deciding which brands are included on the cards.

To learn more about OmniCard’s extensive reward offerings, click here.

About Blackhawk Network

Blackhawk Network delivers branded payment programs to meet our partners’ business objectives. We

collaborate with our partners to innovate, translating market trends in branded payments to increase reach, loyalty and revenue. With a presence in over 26 countries, we reliably execute branded payment programs in over 100 countries worldwide. Join us as we shape the future of global branded payments.

Blackhawk Network is headquartered in Pleasanton, California. For more information, please visit

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1 The “Blackhawk Network Employee Holiday Incentives Study” consisted of an online survey conducted by Murphy Research on behalf of Blackhawk Network between August 14 and 23, 2019. The sample size of 1,500 was comprised of full-time U.S. employees who expect to receive a holiday incentive from their employers this year, all between the ages of 18–45.

2 The “Blackhawk Network Incentives Study” consisted of an online survey conducted by Murphy Research on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 4 and 12, 2019. The sample size of 1,002 was comprised of U.S. reward program managers who have full or partial responsibility for purchasing rewards or managing incentive programs at companies that offer employee, customer or channel incentives.

3 “Conscious and Unconscious Reward Preference & Choice: A Biometric Experiment” was published by the Incentive Research Foundation in 2017.